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Lobby Your MP

With thanks to Greenpeace NZ.

Many people think that the only way to have power in a democracy is to vote once every three years. However, by going directly to Members of Parliament you can ensure that your voice and opinion is heard all year round. The power of personal contact with an MP can never be underestimated. These people are voting and making decisions on behalf of their constituents constantly, and it might be your voice that is resonating in their head when they do so.

Relationship building and a change of opinion

Politicians are ordinary people with a range of different interests and opinions that usually but not always agree with their party. By writing letters and arranging face-to-face meetings with your politicians you will create pressure on them to do something. Even if they completely disagree with CBB campaigns, it is always worth creating this pressure.

Over time you can learn what your local politician's views are and they in turn will form a view of who you are. The challenge is to build mutual respect and use your relationship to change their views and take a stand about an issue that's important to the Coalition for Better Broadcasting.

Make Regular Contact

Your goal is to "agree to agree" with your MP. Congratulate your MP for things like their party adopting policies you support, or your MP doing something that you feel contributes to our campaigns. Be especially sure to congratulate and thank your MP for doing something you asked them to do – like making a public statement or opposing a Bill.

Try to create a basis for politicians to feel comfortable working with you. Then, when you lobby against future policies, they will be more sympathetic and will feel the pressure of your efforts more acutely.

"It was really great that you expressed concern for the television industry, Nikki. I really appreciate it, and I know everyone who feels so strongly about this does too. Thanks. We also need to set aside radio spectrum for public service broadcasting. So I would ask you to raise this issue in Cabinet..."

What you need to know

Choose a target.

If you don't know which MP to focus on, go to the Parliament website here to search by electorate or areas of responsibility. Many List MPs link themselves to electorates as candidates too and they might be keen to strengthen their ties to your electorate by listening to you.

The size of their majority.

This can be found on an MP's entry in the parliament.nz website. The larger the margin, and the longer the MP has held the seat, the less likely they are to be swayed by marginal interest groups. But an MP with a newly held seat, or a seat won by a lower margin, is more likely to succumb to the pressure of effective lobbying. Knowing your MP's majority, and their main opponent, is vital information for devising your lobbying strategy.

Select Committees are an opportunity. Find out which select committees your local MP sits on (available on the Parliament website). Usually MPs will sit on committees they have particular interests in or skills that are useful in that policy setting. You may find that your local MP or nearby List MP sits on a select committee relevant to the concerns you are raising so, if you lobby effectively, you have a potential direct-representative in the select committee process.

The position of the party.

MPs sometimes have to make the tough choice between voting along party lines or voting as the representative of a constituency. It's your job to convince them why your position better reflects the interests of the electorate and why they should side with 'their electorate' on this issue. This is a very effective lobbying strategy but beware, the major parties (National and Labour) tend to be selective about what policy information they release publicly, other than general guiding principles. Minor parties win support through their policies; major parties tend to lose it!

Meeting your MP.

The more you know about an MP, the greater your powers of persuasion when you to go meet them face to face. Visiting your MP in person is one of the most effective things you can do because it demonstrates that you feel strongly about an issue. Very few people take the time to visit an MP, so they do take notice. MPs often feel isolated, over-lobbied by corporate interests and out of touch, so they like meeting 'real people who care about their families and community'. It's also a good way to monitor your politician's attitude on an issue.

Before you go to the meeting make sure:

  • You have a copy of supporting materials
  • You have a clear request for your MP. You may ask them to sign a petition, write a letter to the Prime Minister, or raise it with their colleagues
  • You dress respectably. Your MP is judging the whole package, not just what you say (rightly or wrongly, that's how it is)

If you are going to the meeting as a group ensure:

  • You all have a good understanding of the issue
  • You have nominated spokespeople for each topic you want to raise
  • One person is responsible for taking notes during the meeting

relationship.jpgThe single most important thing you can do during your meeting is build trust and rapport with your MP. If you give the right impression, come across as knowledgeable, reasonable, and passionate, then your MP is more likely to take your request to heart. At the end of the day, being right about something is only one part of the whole package of selling your point of view to your MP and then motivating them to do something.

Come in prepared to have a conversation. Be fair and listen to their reasons for opposing, supporting or being reluctant to take a stance on your issue. You are more likely to convince your MP to change their mind if you can gently show them why their opposition or reluctance is misplaced and the benefits of supporting you outweigh these. Coming in with a rehearsed, static script will prevent you from having the dynamic conversation you need. Having the conversation at their level will make it easier for them to change their mind on an issue because you can show them that they're not really changing their minds at all! It's better to assure them that your position is more consistent with their beliefs than to ask them to revise their beliefs.

Think of this just like any other conversation you have about important issues. MPs have to deal with a lot of people, mostly crazies or overly emotional sorts. That's why your MP is more likely to like and respect you for coming in and having a relaxed, low-key conversation about an issue you care about than something dry, rehearsed, or over the top.

After the meeting, write or email to thank the MP for meeting with you and outline what you discussed. In particular, don't let them forget any promises they made!

Good luck. Please contact us if you need help and keep us informed so we can all make a coordinated attack!

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